After two crushing losses at home, the San Jose Sharks finally picked up a win on the Western Hemisphere last night.
The Sharks dropped the first two games in the US and at home in embarrassing fashion, losing their first two games at the Shark Tank to the Atlanta Thrashers and the Carolina Hurricanes. In those games, the offense was hungry and creating good offensive opportunities by penetrating the slot, getting shots on net — outshooting Carolina and Atlanta by a combined 24 shots — and working hard down low. Unfortunately for the Sharks, they were up against great goaltending displays from Atlanta’s Chris Mason and Carolina’s Cam Ward.
The defense was a large contributor to this having done a good job stepping up and helping on offense. The Sharks’ blue-liners were uncoordinated in the defensive zone, not supporting each other, loose coverage, and making bad turnovers in the two losses. The Sharks ‘D’ looked tentative as if they were trying too hard not to make a mistake which led to disturbances in what should be fluid play.
In goal was Antti Niemi, who played worse than expected. His rebound control was terrible, often kicking pucks back up through the slot, the source of two of the Hurricanes’ four goals one to Patrick Dwyer and the other to Eric Cole. Niemi’s lateral movement looked weak and slow while he did not come out to challenge shooters.
To win against the Avalanche the Sharks were able to put a large amount of offensive pressure on Avs goaltender Craig Anderson. The power-play was strong and the defensive help kept possessions going.
On the other side of the puck, the defense was able to support each other more and rely on the stellar goaltending they needed from Antero Niittymaki. The defense’s coverage was still a little loose, letting Avalanche forwards have some room in the middle of the ice. However, their puck movement was more fluid during breakouts and they recovered quickly on turnovers. Defensively, their physical play still needs a little work, but the overall performance of the Sharks blue-liners is improving.
In net, Niittymaki was able to hold down the fort with more good not great rebound control, challenging shooters, and quick lateral movement. He made some big saves during big moments. Antero may be the goalie that takes over the starting position if he continues to play like he did against the Avalanche in the Sharks’ 4-2 victory.
The win will help boost confidence in the Sharks’ D and help the overall flow in the Sharks game.